As we round the corner on the voucher vote, The Sutherland Institute is launching a strangely aggressive campaign for a think-tank that is beginning to look, for want of a better word, desperate. Yesterday, SI issued a press release proclaiming the irrelevance of teacher certification:
While the voucher program does not require “certification” for their teachers, studies show certification has no statistically-significant relationship to actual teaching ability, job performance, and student achievement. The best current methodological research shows that true ability is the key to a teacher’s effectiveness, not an “official stamp of approval.”Seems kind of a no-brainer, but if they want to call it press-release worthy, so be it. Does it mean certification is useless?
“Teaching is both an art and a science, and teacher ‘certification’ is what it is – a certificate that says a person went through and passed a series of classes,” said Derek Monson, education policy analyst for Sutherland Institute. “While quality teachers are extremely important for student achievement, ‘certified’ does not mean ‘qualified.’”
I hesitate to make a comparison between education and private business (as so many in the pro-voucher camp like to do), but for the sake of arguing with means they understand, consider if you will the IT technology fields. Specifically, network design and IT management.
It is a common misconception in the IT field that certification is the mother of all requirements to make a living as an independent contractor. Often it seems the only people concerned with certification are the groups (Cisco, IEEE, etc) who offer the certification, and competing peers in the industry. Customers don't care, and are often completely unaware of the existence or significance of technical certifications.
However, the entire industry, top to bottom, is driven by standards, and without a doubt the simple process of certification has served as a powerful force behind standard promotion, and homogeneous design and deployment. I have met technicians and IT professionals who had certifications covering every inch of their office, yet no skill whatsoever when it comes to planning, maintaining, or customer satisfaction in large or small jobs. I have also met 60 year old technicians who began their career wiring for Ma Bell who, and with no formal training have become quite adept at their work.
Regardless, if I accept the Sutherland Institute's logic in their efforts to push school vouchers on us, I would have to assume that because it isn't the ultimate litmus test for aptitude, I should disregard technical certification entirely. Because I cannot judge myself or a competitor when approaching a customer based solely on certifications, certifications are meaningless? No. In fact, certification in the technical industry, while not the central beacon of aptitude, has played a very important role in standardizing the "basics" from top to bottom. It allows manufacturers and software developers to build their product (or cirriculum if you will, to draw the comparison with education) with the understanding that with adherence to certifiable standards, their product can be deployed more effectively, and have at least a modicum of insurance that basic "best practices" will be used by a majority of technicians.
Certification in the technology industries does not guarantee a certain level of skill, but it does further ensure compliance to an extent that at least the foundation ideals will be employed before greater experience is pursued. Using a model similar to private schools and accredidation, manufactures and customers would be interacting through technicians who install the fastest, or charge the least, or even "use the most duct tape to cut connector costs." The metrics chosen to label "success" under an accredidation-like system of evaluation in a technology based endeavor would give credit of achievement possibly without consideration of actual functionality. For example, consider a computer technician in your office who plugs everything in correctly, understands basic maintenance and repair, but has this annoying habit of "not liking things on tables," and you now work at floor level. It is a primitive example, but effective.
Growing up in a "teaching" household, I have heard all of the stories. I know that any idiot can attain a certification to work in any teaching field or enterprise. I also know that without at least an attempt at standardizing "best practice" requirements for new teachers, it becomes more "art" than "science," to borrow SI's own words. There is much more to teaching than test scores and criminal background checks. Cirriculum planning is only one example of many issues left un-addressed by the Sutherland Istitutes research.
Say what you will about the failures of our public school system, or the beauty of private school (or home schooling, or charter schooling), and vote your conscience on November 6th of course, but don't disregard the importance of teacher certification because in and of itself it does not absolutely guarantee skill. Recognize the fact that certification breeds an environment where skill can develop more quickly and more effectively through a standard foundation, at bare minimum.